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Obama's 80,000 Man Strike-Force for Iraq

5:54 PM, Apr 4, 2008 • By MICHAEL GOLDFARB
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Earlier this week we wondered what, precisely, Obama meant when he talked about keeping a "strike force" in Iraq after withdrawing the bulk of U.S. combat forces. It turns out that he may not be planning to withdraw the bulk of U.S. combat forces after all. Eli Lake reports for the New York Sun:

A key adviser to Senator Obama's campaign is recommending in a confidential paper that America keep between 60,000 and 80,000 troops in Iraq as of late 2010, a plan at odds with the public pledge of the Illinois senator to withdraw combat forces from Iraq within 16 months of taking office.

The paper, obtained by The New York Sun, was written by Colin Kahl for the center-left Center for a New American Security. In "Stay on Success: A Policy of Conditional Engagement," Mr. Kahl writes that through negotiations with the Iraqi government "the U.S. should aim to transition to a sustainable over-watch posture (of perhaps 60,000-80,000 forces) by the end of 2010 (although the specific timelines should be the byproduct of negotiations and conditions on the ground)."

Mr. Kahl is the day-to-day coordinator of the Obama campaign's working group on Iraq.

If there are 80,000 U.S. troops in Iraq at the end of 2010, halfway through an Obama administration, there is no conceivable way that Obama "ends the war" by the end of his first term. In fact, this likely isn't all that different from the role McCain envisions U.S. forces playing in Iraq should he be elected as commander in chief (except U.S. forces would no longer have victory as their aim). So on the one hand, it is reason to hope that Obama really is all talk--that at the end of the day, and in a nod to the fact that he has no experience or background in national security, Obama will rely on advisers like Kahl and Samantha Power, both of whom have said they would counsel against withdrawing U.S. forces, to form his Iraq policy.

On the other hand, this is evidence of stunning hypocrisy and misdirection by Obama on the central issue of the 2008 election. If his policies on the war will not be all that different from McCain's, he should stop ridiculing McCain for saying openly what his own people are saying behind closed doors. To some extent this is the result of a drawn out primary. Once the general election begins, the press will no longer give Obama a free pass on his vague statements about Iraq (the free ride may already be over). Perhaps Obama will take the opportunity to make his long-awaited pivot to the center--but that will strip the Democrats of their favored line of attack against McCain: that he would continue the war indefinitely while they would end it. Not so, apparently.